Thursday, 22 September 2011

2nd home voters; a lot of fuss about nothing.

pic from
a once residential street lies empty

Cornwall Council has decided to strike off second home owners from the electoral register. Headlines, praise and criticism include Cornwall second home owners banned from votingTake your vote home with youNo taxation without representation. This is a welcome move, it is an unacceptable situation when ordinary Cornish people who live and work in the community they are part of have as much say as some rich person from London who spends a few weeks there a year. One person one vote, ought to be the principle adhered to, it is fundamentally undemocratic and unfair that people who own second homes get to potentially vote multiple times where they live and where they own a holiday home. That said this is no big deal, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are busy telling everyone that they have made Cornwall more democratic or fairer but this is at best a half truth.

Cornwall Council's actions actually mean very little, existing legislation means that it is illegal to vote in a general election or referendum twice. As to local elections the legislation forbids voting from a non-residential property as the Electoral Commision website explains.

A person’s name may appear on the electoral register only if they reside at an address within the electoral area. Residence is not defined in law, but it has been held by the courts to entail a ‘considerable degree of permanence’. Based on this criteria, it is possible for a person to be registered to vote in two different electoral areas. A person with two homes who spends about the same amount of time in each can be lawfully registered at both addresses.
However, it is unlikely that ownership of a second home that is used only for recreational purposes would meet the residency qualification. Ownership of a second home that a voter pays council tax on but is not resident in does not qualify them for electoral registration in that area. It is for the local Electoral Registration Officer to decide in the light of an individual voter's circumstances whether they may be said to be resident at an address, and therefore eligible for registration. Electoral Registration Officers are required to consider each case on its own merits.
If an elector is registered to vote in two different electoral areas, they are eligible to vote in local elections for the two different local councils. However, it is an offence to vote twice in any one election. Such an offence could result in a fine of up to £5,000.

It's not an exact way of doing it but removing all people claiming a second home discount from the voting register (or not sending poll cards) is within existing legislation and would remove most of the 2nd home voters. That is to say that by using the law which prohibits voting twice in a general election and using the law to prohibit non residents voting the same result could be achieved. So in effect the Conservative- Independent coalition on Cornwall Council could have used these rules to make sure second home voters didn't vote in last years general election. Similarly the last Liberal Democrat administration on the old County Council could have done the same thing. Neither actually did anything when it mattered, why?

This issue is a lot of fuss about something important, but it's a fuss about nothing actually because the rules already are in place to stop people voting twice and in non-residential households. What is actually lacking by both this Tory-Indy administration on Cornwall Council and the last Lib Dem administration is the political will to enforce the rules.  Hopefully the current administration will enforce the rules and prosecute those that break the law.

So is Cornwall banning second home owners from voting? no existing Westminster legislation already does this.

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